The Battle of Algiers (1966)

“It’s hard to start a revolution. Even harder to continue it. And hardest of all to win it. But, it’s only afterwards, when we have won, that the true difficulties begin. In short, Ali, there’s still much to do.”

‘The Battle of Algiers’, directed by Gillo Pontecorvo in 1966, is a neorealist war movie set during the Algerian War in the 1950s and early 1960s. It shifts focus between the insurgent Algerian groups conducting guerrilla warfare and the French military forces opposing them. It deals sympathetically with the Algerians and, as such, was banned in France for a number of years. The French are shown to be as desperate as those they oppose, forced to adapt to conflict at close questers and against a concealed enemy. In a way this is the birth of the modern war film, with its focus on strategy and intelligence and its refusal to fix on an enemy. The newsreel style of direction and the naturalistic acting also add to this modern, cutting-edge fell and it’s no surprise that this movie has been cited as an inspiration by directors such as Oliver Stone and Paul Greengrass. It’s also a tragedy with a particularly poignant ending: the climax features a victory by the French forces, but one that turns out to be only pyrrhic and symbolic. It’s an important movie to watch when considering the recent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, providing a deeper and more nuanced picture of the relationship between nationalism and religion and giving a sense of what facing a hidden enemy whose tactics include close combat and bombing might be like. In the end, it comes across like a training film for modern warfare, made fifty years early.

Would I recommend it? Yes – watching with ‘Come and See’ would give a more rounded sense of the drama and tragedy of guerrilla warfare.

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